WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Where the Action Is

By James Gertmenian

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
—Romans 8:22

A line of protesters, arm in arm, shouting and holding small U.S. flags

Why were these people smiling? I was at West coast seminary recently, helping to facilitate a multi-faith gathering of young faith leaders. As we arrived at the venue, another group was concluding a spiritual retreat and preparing to leave. They seemed oddly jolly, all smiles and hugs. I wondered why until I saw one of their leaders wearing a large sign that nearly covered her torso. It read: “No politics, please.”

Okay, every group can set its own boundaries. I get that. But when I saw that sign, all I could think was No wonder so many churches are dying. In this day and age—you know the litany: a degraded Earth, daily mass killings, racial hatred, sectarian violence, voter suppression, sickening demagoguery—do people really think they have a right to religion without politics? Will someone tell me what the point of religion is, then?

Love without justice is not love. Compassion without deeds is not compassion. Faith without action is not faith. And religion without politics is not religion.

I understand that the group probably wanted a feel-good, conflict-free, spiritual weekend. Sorry, but in my view, people of faith are not entitled to avoid politics for the sake of a short-lived spiritual high.

I don’t mean to say that faith can’t offer us moments of soaring hope and profound joy, but these come not in the absence of conflict but in the heart of it. The world is “groaning in travail,” scripture tells us, while we work for something good to be born. As a cis male, I acknowledge that I can’t easily appropriate birth imagery, but I do know that the action is in the delivery room, not the waiting room. The intersection of faith and politics, where there's struggle and pain, is the delivery room for the world we seek. That’s where we need to be.

Holy One, when we try to separate our faith and our politics, remind us that neither is meaningful without the other. Give us courage to dwell in that difficult place where they come together... that place where you are surely at work. Amen.

About the Author

James Gertmenian

Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian is Senior Minister Emeritus of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. He now lives on the coast of Maine, where he has been active in political organizing and advocacy for social justice.


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